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EU says it would not open talks with UK after no-deal Brexit until it agrees to divorce bill and Irish backstop

Jon Stone
Wednesday 03 April 2019 14:54 BST
Brexit: Jean-Claude Juncker says UK would have to agree withdrawal agreement issues even in no-deal

The EU would refuse to open trade talks with Britain after a no-deal Brexit until the UK decided to sign up to the main elements of the withdrawal agreement anyway, the European Commission has said.

Speaking in the European parliament on Wednesday, Jean-Claude Juncker said the Irish border, citizens’ rights and the divorce bill would need to be agreed before any other negotiations could begin.

He also warned that no further short Article 50 extension would be possible, and that the UK would have to commit to European parliament elections and a longer delay if it wanted to put back its deadline again.

The announcement that the EU would refuse to back down after a no-deal pours cold water on Brexiteer hopes that the UK could get a better deal by refusing to pay the unpopular £39bn financial settlement or sign up to the controversial backstop and then negotiate a separate trade agreement.

“The UK will be more affected than the EU because a managed or negotiated no-deal does not exist, any more so than a transition period for a no-deal,” Mr Juncker told MEPs.

“Whatever happens the UK will have to respond to the three main questions of the separation: one, citizens’ rights, they must be respected and protected. Two, the UK will have to continue to honour its financial commitments taken as a member state. And three, a solution will have to be found for the island of Ireland, preserving peace and the single market.

“The UK must respect the spirit and the letter of the Good Friday Agreement. No withdrawal agreement does not mean no commitment and the three questions that I have just mentioned will not disappear overnight: they will constitute strict conditions for rebuilding trust and launching discussions on the future.”

But in a small boost for Theresa May, the European Commission president also said member states should approve her request for a short extension until 22 May, but only “if the United Kingdom is in a position to approve the withdrawal agreement with a sustainable majority” before a planned summit next week.

Leaders had previously said the withdrawal agreement would have to be formally approved by 29 March to get the 22 May extension, but Mr Juncker said the prime minister’s statement to the commons on Tuesday night had bought “a few more days”.

But he stuck to the EU’s guns and warned: “If it has not done so by then, no further short extension will be possible. After 12 April, we risk jeopardising the European parliament elections and so threaten the functioning of the European Union.”

Mr Juncker, who heads up the EU’s executive, said Brussels would do “everything possible” to prevent a disorderly Brexit, but that one was increasingly likely.

“The only ones that would benefit from a no-deal are those that are against a world order based on rules, the only ones that would be strengthened would be the populists and nationalists,” he said.

“The only ones who will be delighted will be those who wish to weaken the European Union and of course, the UK.”

Mr Juncker’s comments on Wednesday echo a similar warning by his chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Tuesday. EU officials worry that a no-deal Brexit is more likely than ever because of political deadlock in Westminster.

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